Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender is the creation of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and is owned by Nickelodeon. This is a Very Good Thing: be happy. This story and its contents, however, belong to me: be afraid.
WARNING: This story is a sequel to Tempest in a Teacup. If you haven't read that, then…why are you reading this?
No Map Without Water: Prologue
Where are you?
There was a game they used to play together, with maps. Hoards of maps would be stretched across the floor, transforming a single room into the world's reflection. ("The world at our feet," she used to laugh; he never did.) Carefully, they'd arrange each piece of territory within clear sight, smoothing ragged edges flat, and opening windows to fill the room with good light. If the hour was late and the sky dark, they would light the lamps instead; their glow would cast vivid shadows over the painted kingdoms, deepening the valleys and stretching the hills.
Then, they'd begin.
Where am I, one would ask. The other would answer, you are by the sea. And she would smile and agree, or he would smirk and refute.
Where are you going, one would ask next. The other would answer, I am sailing past the islands and can see the red cliffs guarding a kingdom; can I see you? But she would say, no, you are too far to the right of me. Or he would say, yes, you are very close to the left of me.
It was a pastime that grew from simple to elaborate, and then continued doing so with every session. In the beginning, she created it to be a study aid and break his monotony. In return, he gave to it all he knew and helped lessen the difference between their educations. (She was younger and foreign, but quick; it would've turned competitive eventually if not the pride they took in being each other's tutor.) Again and again, they raced and hid amongst the outlines of nations neither had ever seen, hop-scotching over Earth borders and Fire domains, one keenly searching for the other. He had a talent for tracking; she had a skill at misleading.
It used to be their favorite game.
Where is he?
There was a ritual they used to have between them, on the ship. Come evening, when all the lamps were lit and many lay asleep (though there were many, too, awake) she'd kneel to sit beside him. A map was spread on the table, its edges held down by a compass or an inkstone, and the talking would start. Unlike the daylight debates, which were a meld of orders, directions, and facts-to-be, their evening conversations held the meter and flow of stories unfinished. Legends met historical records, peasant folklore clashed with royal accounts, and the imagination of one mind challenged the judgment of another.
To the west, she would say, where some villagers still believe each wind has a name, and can be bribed into kindness with incense and song. We'll ask who taught them this and why they remember it. (But he didn't trust histories kept beneath the straw mat of a hut.)
To the east, he would say, where the first campaigns entered the hills and conquered the land. Military scribes wrote of what their leaders saw and whom they fought; in their descriptions of the enemy, we'll look for clues to understand a dead culture's travels. (But she didn't trust descriptions forged according to soldiers' orders.)
They argued and agreed, analyzed and estimated, listened and talked, and talked, and talked. For every opinion she offered, he had a fault to discover. For every verdict he gave, she had an alternative to suggest. The shadows of their hands overlapped on paper, darkening the colored ink, and sometimes laughter rang against the iron walls.
It used to be their favorite time of the day.
Somewhere in the air, there is a girl.
The map is a light, almost unnoticeable, weight in Katara's lap; she uses both hands to keep it open and flat, ignoring the wind's attempts to steal it. Having no ready marker available, she uses eyes and memory to measure how far they've come. Sokka peers over her shoulder, while Aang twists around to stare at her expectantly.
"We've got a long way to go," she tells them.
Somewhere on the sea, there is a boy.
The map is dry and smooth under Zuko's fingertips; he traces the freshly made markings on its surface, looking for the pattern of their arrangement. Once he finds it, as find it he must and will, he'll have the means to understand how to come closer to what he seeks. Uncle Iroh tilts his head in wait for a decision, while the crew readies for his command.
"We've got a long way to go," he tells them.
My friend, where are we now...